Here We Are, Gerald Kaufman Again

March 31st, 2011 by Mark Gardner

Imagine the outcry if Diane Abott MP got up to speak in the House of Commons, and behind her, on the backbenches, a fellow MP was overheard muttering

Here we are, the blacks again  

Imagine the bemused confusion that would follow when it emerged that the MP who had made the racist remark was himself black. Say, for instance, it had been made by David Lammy MP.

Except, of course, it is well nigh impossible to imagine such a thing happening.

Nevertheless, (the Jewish) Gerald Kaufman MP said exactly this on 30 March 2011 about (the Jewish) Louise Ellman MP – but about “the Jews” rather than “the blacks”.

Here we are, the Jews again

The remark can be clearly heard here at Parliament TV. It occurs when Louise Ellman MP begins to speak at 06:50:01 on the time frame. It is is said in a bored ‘here we go again’ manner. Less audible, at 06:50:17 you can hear Kaufman mutter something about “antisemitism”. (It is the only word that is really distinct.)   

Mathew Offord MP is to complain about this use of “unparliamentary language” and Kaufman has issued the bog standard statement

I regret if any remarks I made in the chamber caused offence. If they did, I apologise.

Kaufman’s excuse of an apology includes the word “if” twice. It is as if he is actually questioning whether or not his remarks really did cause offence; or as if he is questioning whether or not his remarks ought to have caused offence.

You could say that somebody this stupid has no place being an MP. That, however, is to put the cart before the horse: because first of all, somebody who makes such offensive remarks has no place being an MP. Had Nick Griffin been elected to Parliament and made such a remark – about “the Jews”, “the blacks”, “the homosexuals” or whomever – then one hopes that parliamentary justice would have been swift.

To be sure, Gerald Kaufman is no Nick Griffin: but words have impacts, and surely the words of a Jewish Labour MP would have a greater impact in normalising antisemitic attitudes, than would similar outbursts from a usual suspect like Griffin.

There will, of course, be those who say that Kaufman’s own Jewish identity means that he cannot be antisemitic. This is an understandable response, but it confuses antisemitic motivation with antisemitic action and antisemitic impact; and is premised upon an initial definition of antisemitism that is so diminished as to be inadequate for purpose in this particular case.  

Furthermore, merely citing Kaufman’s Jewishness as proof that he is not (or cannot) be antisemitic, is to ignore the many examples of Jews, past and present, who have – for whatever their egotistical and political reasons – chosen to make accommodation with antisemitism (or more accurately, with their chosen aspects of antisemitism) as either practitioners, facilitating allies or meaningfully silent bystanders.

This phenomenon of Jews acquiescing with certain aspects of antisemitism is not merely a matter of historical and contemporary fact. It is also something that is discussed within Jewish tradition, and is especially poignant right now as we approach the festival of Pesach (Passover), when Jewish families will read, in their Haggadot, the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

One of the best known passages in the Haggadah concerns The Four Sons: one of whom is wise, one of whom is wicked, one of whom is simple and one of whom does not know how to ask. It concerns how these different types of Jewish people relate to the story of Passover, but is really a parable about how different types of Jewish people relate to Judaism, Jews and Jewishness.

Not unusually, it is the Wicked Son who has attracted the most attention over the centuries (including in this searing polemic by David Mamet). The fundamental difference between the Wicked Son and the other sons, is that he deliberately places himself apart from his brothers by using the word “you”, rather than “we” or “us”. Provocatively, the Wicked  Son asks

What is this [Passover] service to you?

In this, there are striking parallels with Kaufman’s remark

Here we are, the Jews again

It is those Jews; those Other Jews; who are the objectified targets of Gerald Kaufman’s outburst. It is the Jewishness of those Other Jews that he wants to fling against them – and that he therefore incites others to fling also.

If others followed Kaufman’s example, then we would end up in a far more antisemitic society, whereby Jewishness became the deciding factor in someone’s suitability for making public comment. (For comparison, see Richard Ingrams, here.)

The situation is made even more ridiculous by the extraordinary fact that Kaufman, when he is not fingering Jews, has himself complained that his Liberal Democrat opponent at the last General Election in 2010 had toured mosques telling Muslims not to vote for a Jew.

So, Kaufman understands what it is like when people play “Spot the Jew” in public; and he is happy to call such behaviour “antisemitic” when it suits him.

Why, therefore, should the rest of us not apply similar criteria to Kaufman? After all, he has previous in this regard, having said at the time of the (very same) General Election

Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest

Then, there was his telling the House of Commons that an Israeli Army Major could be compared to the Nazis who had murdered his own (ie Kaufman’s) grandmother.

It is now up to the Labour Party to decide what to do with Gerald Kaufman. He seems to have had enough of Jews; and most Jews have doubtless had enough of him. It is, in one sense, a devilishly difficult decision. Kaufman, if called to defend himself, will likely claim that it is not he who is the Wicked Son – rather, it is he who is the Good Son. It is he who cannot stand seeing the Star of David tarnished by its association with Israeli actions (for example, see him saying as much, here).

Nevertheless, the essence of contemporary antisemitism is how it utilises Israel in resurrecting deeply held notions of Jewish conspiracy, Jewish wickedness and Jewish otherness. Sadly for Kaufman, and all the other Jews, his six word, two and a half second outburst “Here we are. The Jews again” resonates on every one of those antisemitic markers.